Global Holidays at Home: Santa Lucia Lights up December
The Christmas season, which many of us know as a time to visit Santa at the mall and shop for presents, is also the Christian season of Advent, a four-week preparation for the coming of Christ. In the midst of the storied traditions of Advent comes a Nordic holiday, celebrated by Danes, Swedes, and Finns especially, remembering St. Lucia.
St. Lucia’s Day, which is also very close to the Winter Solstice, is one of the shortest days of the year, especially in the northern countries for which wintertime means extreme darkness. The December 13 celebration, not surprisingly, focuses on light, the meaning of the name “Lucy” or “Lucia.” On this day, children get out of bed early in the morning to deliver their parents breakfast in bed . . . well, kind of.
St. Lucia the Light-Giving Saint
There are several legends associated with Lucia, but all the traditions end with her being martyred for her Christian faith. In one tradition, it’s said that she provided food to Christians hiding in catacombs from the Romans. Because she needed both hands free to carry supplies through the darkness, she developed a wreath with candles in it to carry on her head.
These days, the festival is celebrated by a procession of children with “light in their hair” (a wreath of candles, which are now often electric), singing Advent hymns, and bringing light to the north’s dark December days. In homes, usually the oldest daughter is chosen to dress in white, carry the wreath of candles on her head, and bring coffee and rolls to all of the other family members. Hence, an excuse for your children to serve you breakfast in bed!
For little ones, check out the American Girl chapter book, Kirsten’s Surprise to learn about the tradition in America. The Kirsten doll in the American Girl series emigrates with her family from Sweden to Minnesota in the 1800s, and adapts to a new life in America while keeping some Swedish family traditions alive, too. The short book will give your kids a good idea of what to expect and how to celebrate the holiday.
This holiday, which focuses on children – and more specifically, girls – requires a bit of preparation to pull off, since its major festivities happen in the wee hours of the morning. In Scandinavia, kids finish school at 12 pm on December 12 to prepare; your kids might only have the afternoon, but you’ll make do.
Find a long, white dress or robe for your child to put on. Wearing white heightens the effect in the darkness. Then, make a wreath. Tightly braid pine branches or Swedish lingonberry branches to keep the wreath secure. Use copper wire or florist wire if you have trouble securing the branches together.
Next, place seven candle holders in the wreath and secure them with wire. The candle holders should fit seven white tapered candles. Cut the bottom (or top) half of the candle away if you’re worried about weight and instability. Have your child test the wreath on her head and walk around before you even think of lighting candles. You can also use electronic candles if fire doesn’t bode well for your kids.
St. Lucia brings very specific food in Sweden and across the north. Saffron-infused buns, called lussebullar, are the typical treat. Have your kids help make whatever kind of rolls or buns you like to eat for breakfast. Rice pudding, porridge, or oatmeal are other options.
Next, your breakfast will require some Swedish glogg, a spiced, fruity Christmastime drink served all over Europe. Start with a base of apple cider in a kettle and add figs, cinnamon, raisins, clove, orange peel, cardamom, and sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn off the stove, but leave the pot overnight so the mixture can marinate.
Prepare a tray with the buns and glasses for the glogg. It will be St. Lucia’s responsibility to heat the brew in the morning and serve these treats to the rest of the family.
And Finally . . . On the Day
This is your child’s big moment! Set her alarm clock for 5:00 am and send her off to bed. If you have several aspiring St. Lucia’s, have them take turns carrying the tray and serving each other in bed.
When the morning comes, have your St. Lucia dress in her white robe and put on the wreath. Warm the glogg and prepare the tray. When everything is ready, help Lucia light the candles on her crown, and go back to bed. After all, you want her to get the full experience of wandering through the house with the tray in full darkness!
After the morning tradition, you can make a party of St. Lucia’s evening by inviting friends over for more Swedish rolls, singing St. Lucia Day songs, and making wreath-crowns together. Who knows? You might inspire another family to celebrate St. Lucia’s Day next year.
Planning on celebrating St. Lucia’s Day this year and getting drunk on glogg? Tell us all about it!
Cover image via sweden.seTags : celebrations holidays from around the world st. lucia christmas global citizen scandinavian holidays european holidays